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Constance Spry in the 21st Century

Recently I was able to find a used copy of Constance Spry’s book Flower Decoration which includes a few black and white photos of her arrangements. Actually, she did not use the word arrangements, but decorations.

If you look really closely at the decoration on the cover of this book you can see that it includes fruits, seed heads, and grasses in an almost invisible vase. I suspect this is not one of her own arrangements by a  painting by an artist the publisher has not chosen to identify, however Mrs. Spry was influenced by the painters of this sort of still life.

When she came to the US in January of 1938 on a speaking tour the press had a field day with headlines like “Decorator for the Windsors Uses Vegetables or Weeds if They Are Ornamental.”  She was unruffled and said, “Provided the plant is beautiful, I cannot see why I should not use it for decoration just because it has the added advantage that it can also be eaten.”

Barbara Wise does not arrange or decorate flowers for indoors but she designs hundreds of containers a year at the Southern Land Company. When she is not creating and planting she is on the loose admiring other arrangements. On her blog she has been documenting plantings she has created and visited. She knows that Constance Spry’s theories are alive and well outdoors as well as indoors. This container is a perfect example. Mrs. Spry loved urns and was alway on the alert for old urns, and she was notoriously famous for her love of kale as a decorative element.

I had to reduce this photo that Barbara sent me to get it to fit but the kale is clear and if you look closely you can see that the planting contains chard as well as pansies, grass and other graceful foliage plants.  A tour of Barbara’s blog, bwisegardening, will inspire you with many more container plantings.

How Constance Spry Prepared Her Flowers

Gloria Pacosa uses Spry's method

Many of us probably don’t fuss very much when we are making a flower arrangement for our dining table. We run out into the garden and cut a little bit of whatever is in bloom and a few leaves, put them in a vase with little fuss and we are done.

However if we are make a more important arrangement for a special party, for a friend’s wedding, or the church altar, we will need more flowers and foliage and we should take more care with preparing them.

According to Sue Shephard, author of The Surprising Life of Constance Spry,  “She always picked her own garden flowers at least a day before they were needed, and put them in deep pails of water in a cool place. This enabled them to absorb plenty of water before being exposed to the rigors of travel, warm rooms and over handling during arrangement.”

She also often removed most of certain flowers’ leaves to help them last longer, and for the design. This spring I am planning to try an arrangement of lilacs only, no other flowers and no foliage – just like Constance.  My friend Gloria Pacosa follows many of Spry’s in her arrangements.

Gloria's foliage

Swiss chard and kale!

Constance Spry

Constance Spry

“I want to shout out: do what you please, follow your own star; be original if you want to be and don’t if you don’t want to be. Just be natural and gay and light-hearted and pretty and simple and overflowing and general and baroque and bare and austere and stylized and wild and daring and conservative, and learn and learn and learn. Open your minds to every form of beauty.” Constance Spry

Those passionate words came from a woman who was born into poor circumstances in England in 1886. There was little beauty in her world, but young Connie Fletcher spent most of her ‘Saturday pennies’ on packets of seeds so that she could have something pretty.  No one could have dreamed that one day she would be arranging flowers for British royalty, and hobnobbing with the bright lights of high society.

In her excellent biography, The Surprising Life of Constance Spry: From social reformer to society florist, Sue Shephard takes us from Spry’s humble beginnings, to her 1929 meteoric success as a ‘flower decorator’ to the noble and wealthy in London, through the wartime years when her efforts led her into the kitchen as well as the garden, and closing the circle with arranging flowers for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and back to teaching

Spry held several jobs into and through the 20’s beginning with a traveling program in Ireland educating people in an attempt to wipe out TB. That job led her to a short lived marriage and a son. She  then worked for the Red Cross; as a welfare supervisor; as an educator for the Ministry of Aircraft Production; and as headmistress in a school for teenage factory workers where she added flower arranging to the curriculum. There she saw the girls’ hunger for beauty, and showed them how flowers could fill that hunger.

At the same time Spry’s local fame as a flower arranger grew, as she did the flowers for friends’ parties and wedding. In 1929 she agreed to do large arrangements for the windows of a new fashionable perfumery. This was an adventure; Spry was always ready for an exciting project. The shop was to open in November, not the best time for interesting flowers, but when the carillons rang out in joyful celebration the windows  were filled with “old man’s beard with silvery seed-heads, copper colored leaves, great trails of hops turned to strawy gold,” and heavy green orchids she added at the last moment thinking that all those ‘weeds’ might not go over very well.  The windows were a sensation and the beginning of her business. It was also a lesson in the use of plant material that was usually discarded “gone with the wheelbarrow”.

Along the way she set up housekeeping with Ernest Spry and became known as Mrs. Spry, but they never were officially married.

Later Shephard tells us, she met the artist Hannah Gluckstein, known only as Gluck. Their quiet relationship was accepted for four years in their circles, until Gluck ended it. This had not been widely known until Shephard’s book..

All during the 30’s Spry was The Person to arrange the flowers for society parties. She and Syrie Maugham, the famous decorator, known for her white rooms, often worked in tandem. At one elegant party Spry used celadon vases filled with “white lilies, eucalyptus, green hydrangea heads, lichen covered branches, with perhaps one brilliant spike of scarlet anthurium for drama.” Such combinations became all the rage.

She traveled to France to arrange huge pink peonies, cascades of lilies, lilac and flowering laurel, acanthus and white yucca for the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Wallis Simpson,  Her friendship and work for this couple put an end to other royal commissions. For a while.

She did not do all this single-handedly. At one time over 70 people trained in her style were employed by her business.

At the end of the 30’s Spry came to the United States under the auspices of the New York Botanic Garden and the Garden Clubs of America for lecture tours. She was such a success that wealthy New York matrons prevailed upon her to open a New York shop. She loved new projects, and with her usual enthusiasm and energy she plunged in. However, with the declaration of war in Britain, she returned to do her bit.

Her energy and optimism never wavered. The war sent her in a slightly new direction – the vegetable garden. Her thoughts about fresh vegetables and cooking would sound up to date today. The kitchen garden had always been a part of her decorating. She once said, “One has only to look at the lovely line and form of a group of kale leaves to realize that the humble kitchen garden can hold its own with the aristocrats of the hothouses.”

Indeed, Shephard makes it clear that Spry’s approach to gardening, and to ‘decorating’ with plants changed the way that we handle flower arrangements today, looking for original plant combinations and unique containers.

She also captures the verve of this un-prepossessing woman  who inspired David Austin to name one of his hardiest roses after her, and whose exhortation to be confident and  to plea

please ourselves in the garden can still inspire us today. ###

Between the Rows   January 15, 2011

Constance Spry – Two Degrees of Separation

Yesterday, Christopher Petkanas in The New York Times Design Section called Constance Spry a ‘Flowering Inferno.”  I have written about Constance Spry myself in the past, once after interviewing a neighbor, Charlotte Thwing, who has since passed away, but who in her youth worked for Spry in her Madison Avenue shop just before World War II.

Petkanas, in talking about a new biography, The Surprising Life of Constance Spry, bySue Shepard, passed on much juicier gossip than I ever got from Charlotte.  Spry never legally married her second husband and later she had an affair with a cross-dressing artist, Hanna Gluckstein!  However, he never mentioned the Madison Avenue shop. I certainly hope it is in the book.

My Interview with Charlotte Thwing (published 11-2000)

Recently I saw a full page florist ad with a profusion of gourds, pumpkins, artichokes, millet, wheat, kale, sage and Indian corn arranged in profusion with roses, mums, daisies, miniature calla lilies and waterlily. The arrangements were lovely. Any of us would have been happy to put such centerpieces on our Thanksgiving table.

Very pretty. Definitely not shocking. But shock is what greeted Constance Spry”s outrageous arrangements in the Britain of the 20s and 30s. She was possibly the first to break down the barriers that existed between the flower garden and the kitchen garden. I think we can credit Constance Spry with many of the ways we use and decorate with flowers today.

Constance Spry is not a household name. Certainly not to Americans, not even American gardeners, although those rose lovers among us may have noticed that David Austin, the great British rosarian and hybridizer, named the first of his English roses after her. But there was a time when this woman who opened a flower shop and created unique arrangements enjoyed fame, and even a kind of horticultural notoriety among those who parodied and mocked her arrangements.

Spry explained herself, “If to use a kale leaf for its fine modeling, a bunch of grapes for its exotic bloom, a spherical leek flower for its decisive shape, a bare branch for its delicate strength, is to like strange materials, then I am guilty, but not guilty of liking them for any perverse reason.”

Among her many admirers was Beverley Nichols, the British gardener, writer and wit. He talked about “doing a Constance Spry” which is to say  “standing before a bed of hydrangeas, when summer has fled, and seeing beauty in their pallid parchment blossoms.  It means suddenly stopping in a country lane and noting for the first time a scarlet cadenza of berries, and fitting it, in one’s mind’s eye, into a pewter vase against a white wall.  It means bouts with brambles, flirtations with ferns and carnival with cabbages.”

Constance Spry was born in 1886. She had varied careers in health, joined the civil service during World War I and was headmistress of a school teaching young teen aged girls who worked in factories. It was not until the 1920s that she began arranging flowers and 1929 before she opened her first shop in London.  In 1937 a group of New York women invited her to open an establishment on East 64th Street between Park and Madison Avenues.

In August of that year Charlotte Cox as she was then, and who later became my friend Charlotte Thwing of Hawley, began an apprenticeship there. She had always been interested in flowers and after two years at Mt. Holyoke College, and a European summer she enrolled at Stockbridge, part of the Massachusetts Agricultural College and later the University of Massachusetts, to study floriculture.

Charlotte described Constance Spry as “ordinary, not at all aristocratic. She did not present an impressive appearance. She had everyday common sense. She never wore a hat, but always had gloves and high heels – and always seemed to be rushing.”

Photographs of her at that time show her as a solid, tweedy matron, but “she had a tremendous imagination and nothing stopped her,” Charlotte said.

Charlotte spent long days on the top floor of the shop building working with two other young women. “They trained us.  Almost everything was wired with very thin wire. The wire was to give you control.”

She used dried material, seedpods, and vegetables and fruits. “You always had to remember that you were creating Art.”

Charlotte remembers that Spry used any kind of container, watering cans, tea pots, baby shoes, baskets.  “But the flowers were the main thing. The vase was essentially hidden.  For example she would use a flat white vase with white flowers and trailing branches. Her arrangements were very clever and interesting, never dull.”

Constance Spry’s arrangements showed up at society weddings and the windows at Bergdorf’s, the fashionable department store on Fifth Avenue.  “I don’t remember that we ever did a funeral although back then funerals were the bread and butter of the florist business.  Of course there were weddings.  Constance Spry did the wedding flowers when the Duke of Windsor, who had abdicated as King of England, married Wallis Simpson.”

Just before the shop opened Brenda Frazier, one of the most beautiful and famous debutantes of the time, had her coming out party. “The arrangements for Brenda’s party were very important. It was my job to take big magnolia leaves, and strip them so that only the veins were left. Then they were gilded,” Charlotte said.

After her apprenticeship in New York, Charlotte returned to Holyoke where her father was a well-known doctor. In March 1938, when she was just 25, she opened her own shop, The Flower Bowl.

“I had gotten a fantastic education by observing.  I think education can be caught, not always taught.  No other florist was like mine – and I intended to educate the town.  For my first Christmas I did arrangements in blue and silver – but never again,” she laughed.

The war ended Constance Spry’s New York shop, and marriage in 1941 changed Charlotte’s career as well.

The thing that did not really change was Charlotte’s approach to life – an approach she shared with Constance Spry who said, “I want to shout out – Do what you please, follow your own star.  Be Oriental if you want to be and don’t if you don’t want to be.  Just be natural and gay and lighthearted and pretty and simple and overflowing and general and baroque and bare and austere and stylized and wild and daring and conservative and learn and learn and learn.” #####

Constance Spry – The Rose. Those who grow roses may be familiar with the name Constance Spry because of David Austin’s beautiful pink rose. Here is the rose’s story.

David Austin, the British rose hybridizer, wanted to combine the shrubby growth habit of old  fashioned roses with the ability to bloom throughout the season like many modern roses.  One of his earliest experiments was to cross the Gallica ‘Belle Isis’ (which he later saw was not pure Gallica but included some Ayrshire rose) with the Floribunda ‘Dainty Maid’.  ‘Belle Isis’ was chosen for its fragrance, good health, and the shape of its flowers; ‘Dainty Maid’ was chosen because it also was a healthy variety with large, but single flowers in a clear shade of pink.

Austin was surprised that the size of the bush he created was not small as he expected . It was large and somewhat sprawly, but the flowers were gorgeous, large cup-shaped blooms with the myrhh scent that is typical of the Ayrshire rose, a family of ancient ramblers.  He felt the roses had “refinement and delicacy” and was pleased even though he had not achieved repeat blooming. It is one of Austin’s first hybrids, and remains one of his most popular roses in spite of its relatively short bloom season.

In a gentle enough climate, Zone 5 or warmer, this rose is often used as a climber,

Austin showed these roses to the great rosarian Graham Thomas who then introduced the rose to the public through the Sunningdale Nurseries in 1961. They named the flower ‘Constance Spry’ for the famous teacher, gardener, and flower arranger who had died the year before after a fall down the stairs. It is said that her last words, were ‘Someone else can arrange this.” ####

Beverley Nichols, was a great fan of Constance Spry and I am a great fan of them both. I wrote about them here.

The photo of Constance Spry is courtesy of the Design Museum. For more information about this fascinating woman who was a flower arranger, author and social reformer click here.

Constance Spry

David Austin's Constance Spry

The name Constance Spry doesn’t mean much to most Americans. Gardeners may know the Constance Spry rose, one of the first of David Austin’s English roses, but not know the woman behind the rose.

Constance Spry was born in 1886. She had varied careers in health, joined the civil service during World War I and was headmistress of a school teaching young teen aged girls who worked in factories. It was not until the 1920s that she began arranging flowers and 1929 before she opened her first shop in London.

Shock  greeted Constance Spry”s outrageous arrangements in the Britain of the 20s and 30s. She was possibly the first to break down the barriers that existed between the flower garden and the kitchen garden. I think we can credit Constance Spry with many of the ways we use and decorate with flowers today.

Spry explained herself, “If to use a kale leaf for its fine modeling, a bunch of grapes for its exotic bloom, a spherical leek flower for its decisive shape, a bare branch for its delicate strength, is to like strange materials, then I am guilty, but not guilty of liking them for any perverse reason.”

Among her many admirers was Beverley Nichols, the British gardener, writer and wit. He talked about “doing a Constance Spry” which is to say  “standing before a bed of hydrangeas, when summer has fled, and seeing beauty in their pallid parchment blossoms.  It means suddenly stopping in a country lane and noting for the first time a scarlet cadenza of berries, and fitting it, in one’s mind’s eye, into a pewter vase against a white wall.  It means bouts with brambles, flirtations with ferns and carnival with cabbages.”

Constance Spry came to the United States in 1937  invited by a group of New York women  to open an establishment on East 64th Street between Park and Madison Avenues.  She also published Constance Spry’s Garden Notebook while she was here. I found that book in the stacks of the Umass Du Bois Library. This was my first visit to the stacks since my graduation in 1974. Now that I have found the garden riches in the SB section, you can bet I’ll be back.

The War put an end to her shop in the US, but she went on for years arranging flowers for many notables, including the flowers for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  In 1960 Constance Spry, teacher, gardener, and flower arranger, died after a fall down the stairs. It is said that her last words, were “Someone else can arrange this.”

Spry’s Fresh Bouquets

Photo Courtesy of Debra Prinzing

Constance Spry found beauty in places others had not noticed. The unexpected drama of the plants she used surprised and delighted people. She turned to the vegetable garden and found one of her favorite plants – kale – but used other vegetables and fruits to brilliant effect.

Her arrangements would not have the same  startling effect today, because the ideas she propounded, her cry to forget about the rules and have fun, to see beauty in the commonplace have actually become commonplace today.

Garden author and blogger Debra Prinzing is working on a beautiful book,  A Fresh Bouquet, with photographer David Perry. Their journey among flower growers, the flower industry, and floral designers is being captured in their A Fresh Bouquet blog. There I found instructions very similar to what Constance Spry was following and teaching in the 20’s and 30’s.

Photo Courtesy of Debra Prinzing

“Use twigs and branches as well as more common foliage, conifers  and broadleaf evergreens.

Use fruits and berries, and maybe vegetables.

Use other natural materials, seedpods, pine cones, grasses, moss.

Use commercial flowers with restraint. Flowers are not always necessary.”

For the full post click here.

Who Chose the Names for Flowers in My Garden?

Passionate Nymphs Thigh

Passionate Nymphs’s Thigh named by the Empress Josephine

Who chose the names of flowers in my garden? I have found they often have an old and interesting history.  The names of the roses I have grown remind us of the person who did the naming – or at least of memorable people. In my Heath rose garden I grew Madame Hardy, a rose bred in 1832 by Alexandre Hardy who named it for his wife.

The first rose I planted in Heath was named Passionate Nymphs Thigh. I could not resist that name. This rose was named by the Empress Josephine whose country house, Chateau de la Malmaison, had the perfect acreage for the large gardens she was to plant. Roses were her favorite of all the usual and exotic plants in her garden. Apparently she enjoyed giving imaginative names to her plants. She chose Cuisse de Nymph Emue, which translated literally means Thigh of an Aroused Nymph and proved scandalous enough in some quarters that it also came to be called Maiden’s Blush. During Napoleon’s wars there was always an order to allow packages from the English nurseryman, Kennedy, to come through the blockades. Napoleon himself often sent Josephine roses from his campaigns. Her garden ultimately included 200 different roses.

Fantin Latour painting

One of Fantin-Latour’s paintings of roses

It is the great British rose breeder David Austin who named a rose for the celebrated Constance Spry (1886-1960) the British florist and educator who changed the way we all arrange our bouquets. Austin honored many other ladies – and gentlemen – of the horticultural world, including Gertrude Jekyll, and Graham Thomas, and characters from literature like Sweet Juliet and Brother Cadfael. Clearly it pays to be a plant breeder, and have the right to commemorate friends or famous people of history.

Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958) was American born but after attending the University of Cambridge in England he became a naturalized British citizen. He joined the British military and fought in the Second Boer War and later World War 1. His mother bought a 300 acre estate named Hidcote Manor. Johnston joined his widowed mother after the war and spent the next forty years collecting plants, hunting for plants in such places as the alps and the Andes, and designing gardens with wonderful plant combinations. After 1930 the gardens became more and more well known for their individualistic beauty and plants. He named a number of the flowers in his garden for Hidcote including Hidcote lavender, Hidcote Gold rose, Hidcote Beauty fuchsia and others.

Griffith Buck Folksinger rose

Griffith Buck Folksinger rose

We in the U.S. had our own wonderful rose breeder Dr. Griffith Buck (1915-1991) who fought in WWII and then enrolled at the University of Iowa. He stayed on there as a professor for the rest of his professional life. He hybridized 80 roses and his goal was to make them cold hardy to -20 degrees and strong enough that they would not need pesticides or fungicides.

Applejack rose

Griffith Buck Applejack rose

Several Buck roses are among the Earth-Kind collection of trouble free hardy roses. Living in Heath I needed hardy roses and the large pink Applejack rose greeted our guests as they made the turn to the front of our house. It was one of the first roses planted, and was still going strong with little attention 35 years later when we moved to Greenfield where I am now growing the beautiful fragrant pale peach Folksinger Buck rose. Buck chose many names that reflected  the Midwest, from Prairie Star, Winter Sunset, Hawkeye Belle and Earth Song.

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck Rose

Breeders at the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas bred an amazing cerise red rose that blooms into November! They chose to name it after Thomas Affleck, a 19th century nurseryman who had a nursery just down the road from their operation. I grew this rose in Heath where its vigor amazed us, and I am growing another Thomas Affleck here in Greenfield because it is so beautiful, so carefree and still blooming in late October.

Here in Franklin County we are not far from the Olallie Daylily Gardens in South Newfane. Many of the daylilies there were hybridized by Dr. George Darrow (1889-1983) whose long career for the USDA was as a geneticist. He concentrated on small fruits and berries. At least one of the plants he worked with was the blueberry. He was not only honored by having a blueberry named after him, Darrow (which can be purchased at Nourse Farm), he also helped start the Pick Your Own berry movement.

Olallie Lass daylily

Olallie Lass – Darrow hybrid

In his retirement Darrow began hybridizing daylilies. The names he chose for his successes all began with “Olallie” which was the name of a west coast native American tribe. Loosely translated it was Place Where Berries Are Found. He thought Olallie would be the perfect name for his farm. Maryland Olallie Farm came into being first with berries, but the daylilies he created bore names like Olallie Lass, Ollalie Harvest and Ollalie Light Hearted. Some of the Olallie daylilies are named after family and friends. Now it is grandson Christopher Darrow who owns the amazing Olallie Daylily Farm, and has hybridized 125 new Olallie daylilies.

Christopher Darrow always has new hybrids coming along, and he has suggested that some of us might like to name a day lily ourselves.  Check out the website. Wouldn’t your sweetheart like a unique daylily with her/his name?

Between the Rows  October 27, 2018

Flowers for Cutting

Salvia and pink cosmos

One of the joys of having a garden is being able to give away plants. Last  weekend a number of gardeners gave away divisions of their plants to the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale, helping the Bridge and a lot of other gardeners.  That is one way.

Another way is to give plants to friends or acquaintances who are starting a garden and might not be able to tell a bean from a bachelor’s button

Still another is to make up a bouquet of whatever is blooming and give it to a friend or acquaintance who is celebrating or struggling or recuperating. Of course, you might give away a bouquet just because you like giving away bouquets, even if, like me, you belong to the stuff a handful in a jam jar school of flower arranging.

If you like giving away bouquets think about the best flowers to include. This will depend on your own taste and the season, but some flowers will last longer than others in a vase.

The point of a cutting garden is to grow the healthiest flowers possible, without worrying about ‘design.’  Cutting gardens, straight rows of brilliant or delicate flowers, can be beautiful but it is the beauty of bright abundance, not the beauty of carefully thought out schemes of color and texture.  A cutting garden planted in rows can allow for sufficient space between plants to give them good air circulation and room to grow their best.

It’s easy to direct seed a variety of familiar sun loving annuals like cosmos, marigolds, sweet peas, nigella, annual salvias, pollen-free sunflowers, and zinnias in the ground. Annuals usually begin blooming at the beginning of summer and continue into the fall.  These are not exotic flowers but even this short list includes a variety of color, form and texture and they never fail to give pleasure.

I’ve bought seedlings of less familiar annuals like gomphrena or globe amaranth. The globe shaped blossoms on sturdy stems come in a variety of shades of pink and red. I also buy snapdragonseedlings because they take such a long time to get to transplanting size.

Some people dislike raiding the perennial plantings for bouquets, but removing a few carefully chosen stems doesn’t have to make the ornamental garden suffer. Delphiniums, in various heights and shades of blue, are a great addition to any early summer bouquet.

Astilbes have the benefit of tolerating some shade and moist sites.  Most blooming plants need a lot of sun. These plants with plumy spikes, white, shades of pink and red or peach, grow into big clumps in the garden, ready to donate a few stems to an arrangement. The airy, almost fern-like foliage is also useful in an arrangement.

Two plants that always attract my attention in the garden are astrantia, which is related to scabiosa and has a similar pincushion flower in shades of pink or white.  The other is knautia which also has a similar flower – to me.  I particularly like the deep wine red shade. Both of these perennials attract butterflies.

The columbine, a delicate spring bloomer with starry outer petals and long spurs, is beautiful in a bouquet. I have a deep purple native variety that grows vigorously and makes a good cut flower if only because I try to cut as many of these as I can before they scatter seed all over the flower bed. Other hybrids will self sow, but usually not with such vigor. The columbine comes in many colors, pale shades of white, yellow and pink, and bi-color forms like “Tequila Sunrise” a stunning yellow and coral, or the red and white “Songbird Cardinal.”

Lady’s mantle, achemilla, is useful in a flower arrangement because the airy sprays of yellow green flowers are unusual and neutral, and the round scalloped leaves can form a decorative collar surrounding the bouquet, or the edge of the vase.

Like lady’s mantle, coral bells have useful flowers and foliage. The delicate little blossoms on wiry stems usually come in an array of pink and white. There are many hybrids now where the interest is mainly on the foliage. Heuchera “Caramel”  has foliage with an orange blush, “Frosted Violet” has broad pinky purple leaves dusted with a silver shimmer. The low growing ”Citronelle” is a bright chartreuse and “Peach Flambe” has bright peach foliage that becomes darker and richer as the season progresses.

Dahlias are a mainstay of the autumnal cutting garden. There are hundreds of varieties from small button types to large dinner plate blooms in shades pale or dramatic. They begin blooming in mid-summer and continue into the fall. The more you cut, the more they will bloom. They last handsomely for a week or more in a vase.

A flower arranger might also raid the vegetable garden for some interesting foliage. The famous British flower arranger Constance Spry may have been the first to put kale in her “decorations” but she certainly isn’t the last. A very different sort of foliage is provided by the ferny bronze fennel.

Some gardeners will like the simplicity of a cutting garden planted in rows. Others may simply prefer  to plant a variety of cutting flowers in mixed garden beds. Either way, including a selection of flowers that can last well for a few days in a vase is a beautiful way gardeners can express their generosity.

Between the Rows    May 21, 2011

April Fool!

Still Snowing April 1

We left sunny Houston yesterday at noon, and got into sunny Nashville, but by the time we arrived in Hartford at 6:30 the rain was falling. Our son drove us to Greenfield where our car waited for us at his house. Quick! A few groceries! Quick up the hill. The snow is falling. And still falling this morning. My plan was to plant spinach today, but I guess that will not happen.

photo by Kirsten Luce for the New York Times

The only flowers in my view this morning come from the New York Times (3-31) with Christopher Petkana’s story about Emily Thompson “who has  become New York’s surprise floral designer du jour,” and the “fantasy tabletop woodland” arrangement”, which includes a tree stump, she created f or an event at La Grenouille  for Kenneth Jay Lane.  She is being compared to Constance Spry, who has been celebrated (several times)  right here on the commonweeder.  Ms. Thompson gives full credit to Spry’s  inspiration. “She loved things that were unpopular or considered without class – weeds, pods, edibles – and is responsible for those distinctions ” she said. Once again we are being reminded that we can go wild with our palette of flowers, plants in all their stages, and containers. I’d say I’ll keep my eyes open for a suitable stump, but that is not the point.  Have you used an unusual container for an arrangement, or ‘decoration’ as Constrance Spry would say?

GWA and Flowers of Glass

Cambridge, MA Feb. 2

I left home Tuesday afternoon, racing the storm, because I was planning on having lots of educational fun in Cambridge while I was staying there visiting with my son. I had scheduled a visit on Wednesday to see the Glass Flowers at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History and then a meeting with other garden writers on Thursday.  The storm stopped, but so did a lot of traffic in town. The Museum was closed!

Porter Square Bookstore

The Museum was closed but not the Cambridge Main Library. I set off, but the going was nasty. The fine mist froze on my eyeglasses.  I decided to spend a happy hour in the local bookstore instead. Flowers, Chic and Cheap: Arrangements with Flowers from the Market or Backyard by Carlos Mota is a beautiful book with some arrangements that are very a la Constance Spry.

OESCO

Thursday things were a bit better but I was glad that my son drove me to the conference center where NE Grows! was in full swing.  Our wonderful local company OESCO was there showing off all their wonderful tools and getting a lot of attention.

Botanical Interests Seeds

Botanical Interests Seeds is a fairly new, but excellent seed company.

Hart's Seeds

Hart’s Seeds is another good company, but they have been around for over 100 years.  All those seeds make me feel that spring will come.

Colleen Plimpton

But no more time for NE Grows!  The garden writers awaited.  I met Colleen Plimpton and bought her new book. It looks wonderful.  Our group shared lots of garden talk.  Lots of writing talk. Our speaker, Betty Mackey of B.B. Mackey Publishing,  gave us linformation about Print on Demand publishing. That’s POD. I am enjoying Who Does Your Garden Grow that Betty published. Now I feel au courant.

Passiflora gracilis

The meeting broke up a little earlier than I expected. If I hurried I could make it to the Museum of Natural History and see those Glass Flowers, made with lampwork techniques, by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, father and son, beginning in 1887 and ending in 1936. Their purpose was to enable Professor George Lincoln Goodale to teach botany with absolutely correct models. You will hear a lot more about the Blaschka flowers soon.  It was a full day! And today I will be home.